University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dept. of Dramatic Art.

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The Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina was established in 1936; prior to that, instruction in the history of theater and comparative drama was given in the Department of English. In addition to academic instruction, the new department produced plays and supported dramatic efforts. The Carolina Playmakers, founded in 1918 by drama professor Frederick Henry Koch (1877-1944), became its production unit. Koch and the group specialized in folk drama and were considered seminal in the Little Theatre movement of the early 20th century. The Playmakers performed plays (many of which were written by students) on campus, and also toured North Carolina and other states. The Carolina Dramatic Association, begun in 1922, was a cooperative program of the Department of Dramatic Art and the University Extension Division's Bureau of Community Drama. A new semi-professional theatrical group, the PlayMakers Repertory Company, was established in 1976. Many persons associated with the study of dramatic art at the University of North Carolina later achieved professional prominence, including Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, Kay Kyser, Betty Smith, Shepperd Strudwick, Jack Palance, Louise Fletcher, Anne Jeffries, and Andy Griffith.

From the guide to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art Photographs and Related Materials, 1911-1970s, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.)

The Department of Dramatic Art was established in 1936. Prior to that, instruction in the history of theater and comparative drama was given in the Department of English. In addition to offering academic instruction, the new department produced plays and supported dramatic efforts. The Carolina Playmakers, founded in 1918 by Professor of Dramatic Literature Frederick H. Koch, became its production unit and provided practical training in playwriting, acting, directing, and production.

The Carolina Playmakers was modeled on the community theater idea and had the specific purpose of producing student plays and giving students production experience before audiences. By 1936 the Carolina Playmakers, under Koch's leadership, had already achieved national recognition for its promotion of native playwriting, particularly regional and folk drama. Many of the early Playmakers performances were outdoors in the Forest Theatre, designed by Koch and first used by the Playmakers in the summer of 1919. (The Forest Theatre was renamed Koch Memorial Forest Theatre in 1953.) In 1925 Smith Hall was renovated for use by the Playmakers, though old Memorial Hall continued to be used for large productions. The Paul Green Theatre, completed in 1978, provided more modern design and production facilities.

The Carolina Dramatic Association was formed in 1922 as a cooperative venture of the Carolina Playmakers and the University Extension Division's Bureau of Community Drama. Its purpose was to encourage the study and practice of dramatic art in the schools and communities of North Carolina. The association's activities included theater workshops, district drama festivals, and the Annual State Drama Festival. In conjunction with the latter, special awards were presented for excellence in playwriting, acting, directing, and technical production. The Bureau of Community Drama seems to have been discontinued around 1976. (1976 saw the establishment of the PlayMakers Repertory Company and a reorganization of the Extension Division.)

The Institute of Outdoor Drama was founded in 1963 as an affiliate of the Department of Dramatic Art. Its purpose was to serve as a clearinghouse for information and advice on the production of outdoor drama, a distinctive type of drama originated by Paul Green and largely developed by the Carolina Playmakers.

In 1976 the Carolina Playmakers was reorganized as the PlayMakers Repertory Company (PRC), a professional, resident theater company serving the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Though administered by the Department of Dramatic Art, PRC is under contract with the Actors Equity Association and is a member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT). Thus, it is subject to the standards of those organizations.

The establishment of PRC caused some controversy in the university and in the community because its professional status limited student participation. Furthermore, soon after it organized the PRC, the department phased out its B.F.A. degree program, leaving the B.A. as its only undergraduate degree. An M.F.A. program, established in 1974-1975, continued to be offered. The department's 1975-1976 annual report, which noted the inauguration of the PlayMakers Repertory Company, described it as an outgrowth of the Master of Fine Arts Professional training program. The 1976-1977 report stated that the PRC had become the only university operated professional theatre in south east America recognized by the League of Resident Professional Theatres and the Theatre Communications Group.

The department's Laboratory Theater, which had begun earlier as a vehicle for experimental theater, was reorganized during the 1971-1972 year and became the new vehicle for student productions. In the early 1980s, under chair Milly S. Barranger, efforts were made to strengthen interaction between students and the PRC. Beginning in the 1982-1983 academic year, artists and instructors in the PRC were required to teach and direct students as part of their regular duties.

The following persons have served as chair of the Department of Dramatic Art:

  • 1936 - 1944 : Frederick H. Koch
  • 1944 - 1945 : Samuel Selden, Acting
  • 1959: Harry E. Davis, Acting
  • 1959 - 1968 : Harry E. Davis
  • 1968 - 1971 : Thomas M. Patterson, Acting
  • 1971 - 1982 : Arthur L. Housman
  • 1982 - 2000 : Milly S. Barranger
  • 2000 - 2005 : Raymond E. Dooley
  • 2005 - : McKay Coble

From the guide to the Department of Dramatic Art of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1922-2003, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. University Archives.)

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